Emily Steinfeld, a visual artist who produces work under the name E.S. Mahler, is an expert at constructing new forms from self-made materials. Using the principles of bioplastics, she experiments with recipes to create sustainable substances like algae-based rubber or a baking soda coral, which then become the basis for her sculptures.
Conceptually, what she is doing at Store Space in Kingston is not that different. In 2019, using money she inherited from her father’s passing, she bought a c.1890 brick building on Hone Street and set about creating an entirely new “substance” of space. Part artist studio, part gallery, part research den, part gathering place and event venue, the tagline for Store Space is “open to suggestion,” implying the space’s impressionability. Steinfeld conceives of it as an intentionally malleable project, whose shape will continue to take form as people interact with it.
“It’s kind of mythical,” Steinfeld says. I’m not so interested in it being a straight gallery, more of a space to see what other people have, but I do try to keep it arts-oriented.” After COVID delays, she finally opened up the space to collaborators in 2021. Last year’s events included a group art show, poetry readings, a dinner, and a Kingston Design Connection showcase. An online “gift shop” offers limited-edition, affordable art from some of the past shows.
“I like to connect other people,” Steinfeld says. “The structure hasn't fully figured itself out yet, but I am open to proposals.” Since cool ideas have no bearing on whether or not their author has the funds to execute them, Steinfeld offers a sliding scale based on project and need. “Someone who can pay gets to fund the next person,” she says. Also, each time the space is rented, 10 percent of the income is used to fund free use of the space for local, queer, and/or BIPOC artists.
The storefront, which at various times in its history was a grocery store, candy shop, architecture studio, and bohemian commune, has big glass windows that allow sunlight to pour in, soaring tin ceilings, and original wood floors. Steinfeld, who is a web designer by day, lives part-time in the upstairs apartment with her girlfriend Natalie Adler, a writer as well as the editor for the socialist feminist magazine Lux. Steinfeld’s studio is out back in the garage and another studio space downstairs is rented long-term to interdisciplinary artist and RISD professor Kerry Downey.
“I don’t love the gallery system, I don’t love the art world,” Steinfeld says. “Store Space—its name and its ethos—is a little bit tongue and cheek about galleries.” Steinfeld imagines the storefront being used for anything from exhibition prep to materials research to pop-up shops. In the future, she hopes to see the concept evolve into a residency, but the logistics involved make that a far-off plan. “I want to develop the basement, I want there to be a kiln—a little bit like Women’s Studio Workshop, where it can be a functional space for research and people looking to develop interesting ideas, whether artists or others,” Steinfeld says. “It’s ok to be incognito and it’s ok to not be an artist.”
The connection with the Women’s Studio Workshop is not off-the-cuff. Recently, WSW alum Carlie Waganer rented Store Space for two weeks to do a marbling workshop and catch up on studio time. And in August, WSW interns will mount a group show there.
Currently, the space is being occupied by Agnes, a traveling vintage furniture shop. “I was inspired by the 100-year-old grocery store on Hone and designed a space to celebrate vintage furniture and the style it creates,” says Agnes founder Holly Harnisch. Her inventory comes from years of collecting, travels, and her own former living spaces across the country and abroad. Agnes is open at Store Space on weekends through the end of June, 11am-6pm.
“I feel a little vulnerable, because I don’t have it figured out—I just have this space,” Steinfeld says. “And I want to make it accessible and sustainable and all the things that make a space cool. It’s overwhelming to sum it up, because it is still becoming. It’s full of potential energy.”